- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
Acid sulfate waters are produced mostly by the oxidation of common sulfide minerals such as pyrite, chalcopyrite, pyrrhotite, and marcasite in rocks, soils, sediments, and industrial wastes. This spontaneous process of mineral weathering plays a fundamental role in the supergene alteration of ore deposits, the formation of acid sulfate soils, and the mobilization and release of acidity and metals to surface and ground waters. The purely natural process of “acid rock drainage” is often intensified by human activities related to mining, mineral processing, construction, soil drainage, and dredging. Geochemical reaction rates are accelerated because physical disturbance gives greater exposure of mineral surfaces to air and water, and to microbes that catalyze the reaction process. Large quantities of reactive sulfides are also concentrated and exposed to air as a result of mining and mineral processing. Acid sulfate waters produce a number of fairly insoluble hydroxysulfate and oxyhydroxide minerals that precipitate during oxidation, hydrolysis, and neutralization. The objective of this chapter is to describe the formation, properties, fate, and environmental implications of the nano- to microphase hydroxy-sulfates of Fe and Al that are precipitated from acid sulfate waters. These minerals are commonly of poor crystallinity and difficult to characterize. Much remains to be learned about their occurrence, formation, and properties.
INTRODUCTION TO ACID SULFATE ENVIRONMENTS
The best known examples of acid sulfate waters are those released from mines where coal and metallic sulfide ores have been exploited (Ash et al. 1951, Barton 1978, Nordstrom 1982a, Rose and Cravotta 1998, Nordstrom and Alpers 1999). There may be as many as 500,000 inactive or abandoned mine sites in the United States alone (Lyon et al. 1993). Although most of these pose no immediate water-quality problem, Kleinmann (1989) estimated that about 19,300 km of streams and more than 72,000 ha of lakes and reservoirs have been …